Lord Indra is the leader of the Devas (Gods) and the Lord of Svargaloka or a level of Heaven in Hinduism. He is the God of rain and thunderstorms. He wields a lightning thunderbolt known as Vajra and rides on a white elephant known as Airavata. Lord Indra is the most important deity worshiped by the Rigvedic tribes. His home is situated on Mount Meru in the heavens.
In the Puranas, Lord Indra is bestowed with a heroic and almost brash and amorous character at times, but he also commits many kinds of mischief for which he is sometimes punished. His reputation and role diminished with the rise of the Trimurti.
Lord Indra is, with Lord Varuna and Lord Mitra, one of the Adityas (the chief gods) of the Rigveda besides Lord Agni and others such as the Ashvins. He delights in drinking soma.
In the Rigveda, Indra is the god of thunder and rain and a great warrior who battles with the water obstructing serpent Vritra. He also leads the Devas (the gods who form and maintain Heaven) and the elements, such as the god of fire, Lord Agni, the sun god Lord Surya, and Lord Vayu of the wind. He constantly wages war against the opponents of the gods, the demonized Asuras.
As the god of war, he is also regarded as one of the Guardians of the Directions, representing the East. As the most popular god of the Vedic Indians, Lord Indra has about 250 hymns dedicated to him in the Rigveda. The rainbow is known as Lord Indra’s bow.
Significance of Lord Indra
Lord Indra is described with more human characteristics and vices than any other Vedic deity. Modern Hindus tend to see Lord Indra as minor deity in comparison to others in the Hindu pantheon, such as Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu, or Goddess Shakti. A story illustrating the subjugation of Lord Indra’s pride is illustrated in the story of Govardhan hill where Lord Krishna, an avatar or incarnation of Lord Vishnu carried the hill and protected his devotees when Lord Indra, angered by non-worship of him, launched rains over the village.
In Mahabharata, Lord Indra became afraid of the fighting prowess of Karna and he himself took the form of a bee and stung Karna’s thigh. Once at the end of his training, Karna happened to offer Lord Parashuram his lap so his guru could rest his head and nap. But while Lord Parashuram was asleep, Lord Indra in the form of a bee, stung Karna’s thigh and despite the pain, Karna did not move, so as not to disturb his guru‘s sleep. With blood oozing from his wound, it trickled down his leg and woke Lord Parashuram. Lord Parashuram had an intense hatred towards the Kshatriyas.
Convinced that only a Kshatriya could have borne such pain in silence, Lord Parashuram realized that Karna had lied and cursed his student that he would forget all the knowledge required to wield the divine weapon Brahmanda Astra, at the moment of his greatest need. Later this incident saved the life of Lord Indra’s son, Arjuna from certain death.
Lord Indra and the Ants
In this story from the Brahmavaivarta Purana, Lord Indra defeats Vṛtrá and releases the waters. Elevated to the rank of King of the gods, Lord Indra orders the heavenly craftsman, Vishvakarma, to build him a grand palace. Full of pride, Lord Indra continues to demand more and more improvements for the palace. At last, exhausted, Vishvakarma asks Lord Brahma the Creator for help.
Lord Brahma in turn appeals to Lord Vishnu, the Supreme Being. Lord Vishnu visits Lord Indra’s palace in the form of a Brahmin boy; Lord Indra welcomes him in. Lord Vishnu praises Lord Indra’s palace, casually adding that no former Indra had succeeded in building such a palace. At first, Lord Indra is amused by the Brahmin boy’s claim to know of former Indras.
But the amusement turns to horror as the boy tells about Lord Indra’s ancestors, about the great cycles of creation and destruction, and even about the infinite number of worlds scattered through the void, each with its own Indra. The boy claims to have seen them all. During the boy’s speech, a procession of ants had entered the hall. The boy saw the ants and laughed. Finally humbled, Lord Indra asks the boy why he laughed. The boy reveals that the ants are all former Indras.
Another visitor enters the hall. He is Lord Shiva, in the form of a hermit. On his chest lies a circular cluster of hairs, intact at the circumference but with a gap in the middle. Shiva reveals that each of these chest hairs corresponds to the life of one Indra. Each time a hair falls, one Indra dies and another replaces him.
No longer interested in wealth and honor, Lord Indra rewards Vishvakarma and releases him from any further work on the palace. Lord Indra himself decides to leave his life of luxury to become a hermit and seek wisdom. Horrified, Lord Indra’s wife Shachi asks the priest Brihaspati to change her husband’s mind. He teaches Lord Indra to see the virtues of both the spiritual life and the worldly life. Thus, at the end of the story, Lord Indra learns how to pursue wisdom while still fulfilling his kingly duties.